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Wily Peralta, Alex Liddi, David Cooper: Mining the Minors

In the hours after yesterday’s Mining the Minors column was posted, the Red Sox promoted Ryan Lavarnway. The 24-year-old catcher got his due in this space three weeks ago for mashing baseballs all year long. At the time of that write-up, I didn’t see an easy fit for him in Boston until September roster expansion, but with Kevin Youkilis hitting the DL and David Ortiz battling a heel issue, Lavarnway got the call a couple weeks earlier than expected. Considering he’s known more for his stick (30 HRs this year) than his glove, he’s likely to see some time at designated hitter in addition to any opportunities behind the plate. As a savvy add in leagues that require a second starting catcher, Lavarnway is worth a look. My colleague Erik Hahmann will have more in just a bit, so check back here shortly.

Until then, though, here’s a trio players who might soon be up and contributing.

This column offers a take on formerly-elite prospects, lesser-known farmhands and veteran minor leaguers who are on the verge of getting a shot — all with a nod to their fantasy relevance and impact, specifically for this season. To help owners, I’ll include a player’s Talent Rating; but just as important is the Opportunity Rating, which points out the likelihood that a player will make his way to the majors during the year.

Wily Peralta, SP
Organization: Brewers
Age: 22
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: 11-7 W-L; 3.32 ERA; 1.24 WHIP; 134:49 K:BB over 132 2/3 IPs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 9
Talent Rating: 7
Obstacle(s): Limited experience at Triple-A

Working in just his second season as a full-time starting pitcher, the Dominican right-hander has put together a fantastic year, emerging as arguably the Brewers’ top prospect (aside from their top two picks in the 2011 draft). Recently promoted to Triple-A, Peralta has a sparkling 17:1 K:BB ratio over his first two starts (13 IPs) at Nashville, making him a candidate to start one of the games in Monday’s doubleheader. Regular fifth starter Chris Narveson, on the DL with a finger laceration, is expected to throw a bullpen session Saturday, and if he isn’t ready to come off the DL in time for Monday’s games, the Brewers will need a replacement. Peralta makes as much sense as anyone, but even if he’s not chosen for the spot start, there’s a good chance he’ll be up soon enough to pitch in a bullpen role as Milwaukee continues it’s playoff push. Another name to keep an eye on as a possible starter for Monday: Michael Fiers, a 26-year-old righty who’s been used as both a reliever and starter in his pro career and is currently 5-0 with a 1.73 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 in 6 starts for Nashville.

ETA: If Peralta is not called up to start Monday, the Brewers would still be wise to get him on the 25-man roster by the end of August so he’s eligible for the postseason.

Alex Liddi, 3B
Organization: Mariners
Age: 23
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: .258 BA; .832 OPS; 27 HRs; 95 RBIs; 112 runs; 150:55 K:BB over 485 ABs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 8
Talent Rating: 7
Obstacle(s): Strikeout rate; questionable defense at hot corner

Born in San Remo, Italy, Liddi is trying to become the first Italian native in nearly 50 years to make it to the majors, and at the rate he’s going, he’ll check that off his To Do list before this season is out. The righty-swinging Liddi, who was signed back in 2005, is living it up in the very hitter-friendly PCL, ranking third in Triple-A in HRs (27) and RBIs (95), and his 112 runs lead the minors and established a new Tacoma Rainiers record. Now for the but. Liddi also ranks among minor-league leaders in whiffs, with a career-high 150. He owns a 28% K rate in his career, which would more than likely only get worse against big-league pitchers. And as far as his defense goes, some think he may be a better fit at first base given his questionable ability to handle third. There’s also the fact that Seattle just traded for Francisco Martinez, who may wind up being the M’s long-term answer at the hot corner, but in the meantime, Liddi deserves a shot to see what he can do. Because, hey, Kyle Seager‘s .456 OPS isn’t cutting it.

ETA: For the Mariners’ sake, any day now would be a good idea, but certainly in September, Liddi will get a chance, probably in a near-everyday role.

David Cooper, 1B/DH
Organization: Blue Jays
Age: 24
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: .371 BA; .999 OPS; 9 HRs; 87 RBIs; 70 runs; 36:57 K:BB over 399 ABs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 6
Talent Rating: 7
Obstacle(s): Blue Jays are already crowded at 1B/DH; lacks power expected of traditional first baseman

As a first-rounder in 2008, Cooper fell short of expectations prior to 2011, but he’s enjoyed a breakout campaign at Triple-A this year. Again, the PCL caveat comes into play, but he’s leading all minor leaguers in OBP (.445), and ranks first in batting average (.371) among players still in the minors. The power (9 HRs) is below-average for a first baseman — though he did hit 20 bombs last year — but Cooper has true gap power, and his 46 doubles are more than any major leaguer. He actually debuted with Toronto earlier this year, and while he went just 4-for-33, he knocked one out of the park and had a nice 5:5 K:BB ratio, proving his plate discipline can translate to the bigs. The profile here is rather similar to that of another lefty-hitting Blue Jays first baseman who was known for his high batting average, an elite eye and good extra-base hit ability — fella by the name of John Olerud. Given all the power hitters in Toronto’s lineup (Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia), it would seem the team could afford to employ a hitter like Cooper at first to balance things out. Of course, the org is still giving regular time to Edwin Encarnacion, who is useless defensively and streaky as all heck with the bat. He does have a $3.5 million team option for 2012, but would it be such a bad idea to see if Cooper could handle first base, moving Lind back to DH and thus putting an end to the E-5 Era once and for all?

ETA: There’s no reason for the Jays not to give him a legitimate look come September.

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If you have any suggestions for minor leaguers that you would like to see tracked, discussed and evaluated in Mining the Minors, feel free to post suggestions in the comments section. I’ll do my best to get to as many as I can.